Can you give me a rundown of all the Red Circle/Archie Adventure books you were a part of?

Thunderbunny 1
Original Shield 1-4
Mighty Crusaders 4-6 (Original Shield stories)
Blue Ribbon (the two Thunderbunny appearances)
Mighty Crusaders 10*
The Fly 9
Pep 393 (Thunderbunny story)

I was not aware that there was a Tunderbunny Appearance in Pep.

There was a problem with this story though.  Archie brass wanted to try an inker on Brian Buniak’s pencils. Much to my dislike they chose Jon D’Agostino.  He ruined the art.

Like all the Thunderbunny stories they were researched and when you saw an area, that area existed.  This story took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In the background was the famed Mayflower II.  I had taken a lot of photos of this ship, as well as a collector of comic art and collectibles who lived in that area.  Both were in this story. I saw the pencils and they were fantastic. Brian had captured the look of said collector and the Mayflower II looked fantastic.

Now the book comes out.  What looked like the real Mayflower II now looked like a garbage scow and the collector looked flat and hardly anything like the real guy.  I had Brian draw up a special piece of art to give to the collector as an apology for how Archie butchered the art. I never let D’Agostino near Thunderbunny again.

I am missing some issues of the Fly, including the one you worked on. Care to describe it?

In The Fly issue, I had to undo all that Steve Ditko had done.  I had to make Tommy Troy a lawyer again and establish him as a hero.  I did this and laid groundwork for upcoming stories that my friend Bob Cosgrove and I were going to write.  Bob and I got paid for two stories beyond that issue, but they never saw print.  The line folded.

Can you elaborate on having “to undo all that Steve Ditko had done” to the series?

Steve Ditko’s Fly had Tommy Troy disbarred and a hunted man.  I turned that whole concept around and laid the base for a great new series.  I even had an artist that Archie seemed high on to work on it.  Gary Kato was an old friend of mine and his stile is as much like Ditko as Ditko’s is.  You’ll have to read the issue in order to find out how I fixed it.

The series had some great Steranko covers and Ditko interior art that was great.  It was really Steve’s last really good work.

It was a stroke of genius to bring back Corporal Collins and Sergeant Boyle in the stories, although I doubt many people caught the historical significance of their appearance.

I liked the idea of using them.  And if I could have continued on the series the readers would have know more about them.

The only problem I had with the story that had both Boyle and Collins in it was with Dick Ayers.  In the flashback I wanted Boyle in his blue ’40’s uniform.  Ayers insisted on making him look like Nick Fury.  I was going to have that uniform used, though. I had done a story, that never saw print, where Ayers would have to draw the original outfit.

I gave him references by the way.

What did you think when you discovered the difference in uniforms?

When Dick Ayers made Sgt. Boyle look like Sgt. Fury I was not pleased at all, but since I had little control over the way he drew things there wasn’t much I could do after the fact.

However, as I mentioned before, I was determined to have Boyle wear the uniform he had in the Golden Age.  I devised a story based on that uniform, so Dick would then have to adhere to the reference I supplied him.

He also changed the character I came up with for the first story in The Shield. The character was Boroff.  Boroff, the way Ayers drew him looked like a freak.  I had drawn a detailed head shot of the way I wanted him to look.  I was still drawing at this point in time and I had a definite idea on what he should look like.  However, what’s done is done and Boroff looked like a jerk.

On the good side, Ayers followed my layouts perfectly.  When I write, I do a full script and do thumbnail layouts, so the story will flow.  I was pleased as punch, when I saw the preview stats of the first story.  I did have to make a quick phone call to edit dialogue that was spelled wrong.

The only thing I didn’t get to see, because Buckler didn’t send it to me, was the splash page. The title of the first story was supposed to be “America’s Shield!” not “American Shield.”  It still worked and in fact I have that splash hanging on my wall to this day. I also have some other key pages from my Shield run.

I know I commented on how Dick Ayers didn’t always follow instructions, but that aside, he often surprised the heck out of me.

Once case in particular was in a story of The Shield where I had Joe Higgins racing up a flight of stairs and changing into The Shield.  This part of the story was a two page set up.  The next page I asked that The Shield leap off the roof toward the top of the page, grabbing for a helicopter’s landing rungs.  This was to be, what is called in the trade, a worm’s eye view shot and was to be a full page.  The dynamics of the page was to be on The Shield.

Well, Ayers did the running up the stairs and changing into The Shield fine.  The next page blew me away. He changed my idea from a worm’s eye view to a bird’s eye view. You were now looking down at The Shield and a lot of buildings and street traffic below him.  The man put in a ton more detail than I had asked for.

Those two pages (that I now own) are two of the best that Ayers ever did in his career.  When he was into something, he did his best work. He was into The Shield.

The only art he was nervous about was the T-shirt I asked him to create art for. He thought that Archie would be upset.  I explained that it was basically for the Archie staff and for distribution at a few comic conventions.  He rendered the idea, but The Shield’s face was not up to snuff, so I did a paste over on it.  After I did that I had some of the T-shirts made up and gave them out at Archie.  The staff loved them and they did very well at the several conventions I attended that year.  I still have the design art in one of my art portfolios.

I have a lot of art still in my collection. Dick Ayers is a top notch pro and when his heart is in a project, he’s unbelievable.

How did the finished product of Mighty Crusaders 10 differ from the story you turned in?

I did not submit the Mighty Crusader story in issue #10 that way.  It was a disaster!!! The basic plot was there and some of the dialogue, but very little else.

Buckler had left and that was a shame.  The radio personality in that Crusader story was to be Immus (spelling?) who worked out of New York and loved comics. Buckler was going to draw him from photos and we were going to have Immus advertise the book just before it came out.

I had the same line up of heroes in that story that had been in place from the first issue.  Buckler didn’t want the Lancelot Strong character killed off and I used him in that story.  However, as I said before, Buckler had left and now all bets were off.

When I saw the story in print I was devastated.  Not only had they put the worst inker possible on it (Vince Colletta) they put super heroes into the story that had no place in it.

I had the story rigged so it read like a Justice Society story from the ’40’s. The Crusaders split up into teams and each had an event that worked well with their special powers.  One of the side events going on in this story was their problem with their communicators.  A punch line at the end of the story was to be delivered by THE FLY and ONLY THE FLY! I emphasized that several times in my script.  The Fly was to say that they had to work the “bugs” out of their communicators.  This line was to be humorous and would have been if The Fly had delivered it.  However Archie’s editors had The Shield deliver the line and it now made no sense

Who changed it?  Any idea why?

I believe Victor Gorelick was responsible for that disaster.  He was now editor in charge.

Victor is very good at what he does with the Archie characters, but he couldn’t write a super hero comic if his life depended on it. He told me that I had to “write down” in my stories. That is to kids with minds of 3 year olds.  I refused to do that.  He wasn’t giving the readers enough credit.  The books weren’t aimed at 3 year olds. Victor bases his story concepts on the fact that once a month he visits a local grammar school and talks to the 3rd grade kids.  He gets his ideas for Archie that way.  You don’t do super hero comics that way.

The script for the Crusaders after I left was his.  The dialogue made me laugh out loud and it shouldn’t have. The story was changed because they had no idea what to do with it.  Poor judgment on Archie’s part.

So, what you’re saying is that the stories ended up being “dumbed-down” and the series lost its readership in the process, causing the cancellation of the line?

None of the stories I worked on were “dumbed down”.

However, check out the later Mighty Crusader stories and the “She Fox” story that appeared as a back up. She Fox was originally named “Vixen” until I called Victor and explained to him that DC owned the name and character of The Vixen. Vic, using his great powers of imagination, came up with “She Fox” to take the place of Vixen.

I don’t think dumbing down caused the cancellation of the line. It was already on its way out before any dumbing down took place.

What was in store for the Shield after issue 4 of his own series?  Were there stories for it?

I had several stories ready to go for The Shield.  Two of them were paid for, but (let’s say it together again) “never saw print!”

One neat one involved Sgt. Boyle, who was now Joe Higgins boss at the F.B.I. and the other was about a high security prison called Ten Down.  Major super villains were housed there and was located 10 building stories underground.  Hence the name Ten Down.

The stories that “never saw print”.  Were they already drawn, or just written?

One of the stories, “Ten Down” for The Shield, had been penciled and sample pages for The Fly were submitted.  I had to guarantee that Gary would be on time with The Fly art, because he lived in Hawaii.

On a visit to Dick’s I saw the pencils for “Ten Down” and they were beautiful.Especially the villain of that story.  Darn I wish that story had seen print!

The Mysterious disappearance of Dusty. What did you have planned to explain it?

Dusty was to play a major roll in my Archie work. It would not be a time travel story either.  The Dusty that DC killed off, was not the MLJ hero, just their world’s hero.

Rich Buckler as an editor.  How was he?

Rich Buckler was a good editor in that he knew who to get on what book. He brought in some real talent.  If he had been left alone and had a two year window to make the line a success, the line would probably be with us today.

I liked Rich. Still do.  In fact, every time he comes up with a publishing idea, he calls me.  He likes the way I write and the ideas I come up with.

Rich basically screwed himself at Archie. Still, while Rich was there the line had a direction and most of the good stuff produced, mine included, was due to him.

Where you planning anything with the Comet?

I was going to do something to make The Comet a better hero and you can see the ground work being laid in the Shield issue that had Sgt. Boyle and Corp. Collins in it.

Who was in charge of continuity?  (who could have missed the death of the Hangman in Comet #2, but still have him appear in Mighty Crusaders 9?)

Continuity was in the hands of the editors of each book, or in my case me. Since I knew more about the Archie super heroes than the present people there, I made sure my stuff was right or as right as I could make it without moving to New York to oversee the job.  That was never, never, never going to happen.

You mentioned The Hangman. Well, if I had been able to do what I planned, the event you described could have happened.  I had another Hangman in the wings and this one would have had readers asking for more and wondering who he really was.

You had another Hangman in the wings?  Steve Dickering (Hangman’s son) perhaps?

Steve Dickering was not going to be my Hangman. The Hangman was going to be in a lot of the stories I was producing. In each story I’d leave a clue to who he was. I began doing that in one of the later Shield stories. I won’t elaborate, because why give away a good idea.

Did you have (or anyone else for that matter) any plans to explain the Hangman going bad in the Fly-Man and Mighty Comics Presents books from the 60’s?

I’d have come up with something to explain The Hangman going bad, but it didn’t matter really, because my Hangman wasn’t that Hangman. It was another MLJ hero though.

While we’re on the subject, were there any plans to bring back the Wizard who also went bad?

Oh yes!  I had great plans for The Wizard. Again, Gary Kato was going to do the art.  I had color model sheets and everything done.  The Wizard was going to stay bad. The Wizard I had created was going to battle him. I hung on to the model sheets. Since I had a slightly different name for the hero in The Wizard stories, I could use the concept somewhere else if I chose to.

The Future of the Crusaders (in the 80’s, so I guess it’d actually be the past by now, but anyway).. I’ve read that you had plans for the Crusaders…care to elaborate?

A year or so after Red Circle folded, I had a proposal drawn up for a new run on  those heroes, but when DC got them and ruined them, I figured why bother?

I can only assume by your comments that you despised the Impact line? (and a shame, too…I liked them, maybe because when I first read them, I had never heard of MLJ or Red Circle.)

Yep I despised the Impact line. To my way of thinking those stories never, ever happened. Since you never knew the history of the MLJ heroes, I suppose the Impact line made sense to you.  Most of the older fans barfed when they read the DC stories.

What do you think would be the best way to re-introduce the characters?

I had designed a whole group of stories on how to re-introduce the MLJ heroes. It would work beautifully.  I often thought of presenting the proposal to Archie, but then I figured…NO! Stupid Idea!  Archie’s pay rates are the poorest in the industry.

To do what I’d want to do, I’d have to devote a lot of time and stay on top of what was going on.  In effect I’d have to be an editor. Archie paid me better than most when I worked for them.  Mainly because I was always on time with my work and the product sold well.  I have no desire to put that kind of time and effort into Archie.

Plus Victor Gorelick is “editor in charge” at Archie and I will not “write down” as is his desire.

Archie is re-introducing the Mighty Crusaders to current readers through a series of “Public service announcements” (Captain Flag’s bike safety, etc…), one-page origin recaps, and appearances in Archie’s Weird Mysteries.  Your thoughts?

Why bother? They have no one there that seems to understand these heroes. Capt. Flag teaching bike safety is one thing, but producing an adventure that will sell is something else.

My pal Bob Cosgrove and I came up with a great story using Capt. Flag, that we were going to use in Blue Ribbon Comics. The line folded before we presented this to Archie, so the idea remains with us.

Archie may use their heroes to keep the copyright and trademark alive.  I swear, I used to think they brought their heroes back every now and then as a tax write off.  If you lose money on something you can take a business deduction.

I saw a quote somewhere where you said you had a Bob Phantom series planned. Comments? (Bob Phantom and Fireball are among my personal favorite MLJ’ers, but I have no idea why–I haven’t ever seen a true Fireball appearance)

The Bob Phantom series would have been great.  Especially his powers. Since I’ve created another hero using the same powers (they were never really shown or explained at Archie) I’ll have to decline going into the series.

you never know. I may get an offer to do comics again.  From someone other than Rich Buckler.  He asks me that all the time and it never goes anywhere. You mentioned “Fireball”. Did you mean “Firefly?”  I had plans for that character too.

Fireball and Firefly were two different MLJ characters.

Firefly was the character I had plans for. Only the original wasn’t going to be used all that much. The one I was going to use was new, but mentored by the original. The Firefly was also going to be a girl.

Back to Thunderbunny, How many appearances has he made outside Archie?

Thunderbunny had appearances before Red Circle. A text story in a fan publication called Mass Fan Newsletter, Comic Crusader Storybook, and Charlton Bullseye 6 and 10.  Number 10 was a very fun issue.  There was only one Red Circle Thunderbunny book, but he stared in Blue Ribbon Comics #13 and had a story in Pep Comics #393.

And, regarding him, are there certain issues you’d recommend more than others?

Two of my personal favorite stories at Warp Graphics with Thunderbunny was issue #5 and #10. Issue #5 dealt with the famed Rutland Halloween Parade that used to be run every year.  If you were my age, or read the Avengers or Detective Comics from that time, the Rutland Parade was in both books.  My friend Tom Fagan was depicted in all the stories, because he used to get the parade together. Brian Buniak did a very good likeness of Tom and the local was very well researched.  That same year Thunderbunny was a float in the Parade. It also marked the first appearance of Moon Miss.  Issue #10 was a legal issue.  I enjoyed doing that very, very, much and even used my own lawyer and friend in the story.  The story also introduced the Thunderbunny wrist watch. I had 30 of them made up and released them as part of a contest run in the magazine.

What do you think about the people who say ThunderBunny was just another funny animal book?

As for Thunderbunny being just another “funny animal book”, I’d have to say no!

He was and is unique. He also lasted a lot longer than Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew by Roy Thomas. In fact Thomas was originally going to call Capt. Carrot Thunderbunny, until he was advised that I owned the character. He tried to get DC Comics to buy the name and I refused to sell.  I also produced a better book than Roy.  Modesty is not one of my strong suits.

Career highlights?

Career highlights?  Comic Crusader, my fan publication, followed closely by Thunderbunny.  Through Crusader I got to meet a lot of great people and some of them are friends to this day. I enjoyed doing the Archie Super Heroes, but Thunderbunny was and still is, what I got the most enjoyment out of. The one hero I both wrote and drew also ranks right up there.  Atomic Mouse was that hero. Right before Charlton folded, I wrote and drew an Atomic Mouse story.  The folks at Charlton didn’t want to publish it until they saw the art, then they changed their minds.

It was all set to go and I’d even done a cover for the book, but time caught up with Charlton and the company folded.  The story did see print though.  Bill Black purchased the inventory of stories that Charlton had and Atomic Mouse saw the light of day. I wanted to do more stories, but Bill would have had to buy the rights to Atomic Mouse and he didn’t want to invest in a “funny animal”. Too bad.  I could have done some great things with that character and my eye sight was still good enough, so I could have drawn the stories. Oh, well.  Maybe in my next life.